Taking the heat out of summer

Dogs die in hot cars. ENGSUS00120120525160406
Dogs die in hot cars. ENGSUS00120120525160406
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With the temperature rising in the hot months of summer, it is important to know how to keep dogs and cats healthy and protect them from overheating.

A heatstroke is an emergency, and any animal exhibiting such signs should receive treatment immediately. Dogs and cats, unlike humans, can only sweat through their pads. Sweating through this small area and panting are the only mechanisms they have for cooling down their body temperature, which makes them very susceptible to heatstroke.

All pets can overheat and suffer from dehydration, regardless of how healthy they may be, but the very young or old, the ones with heart or respiratory disease, the ones that are obese and breeds that have short noses or heavy, long coats, are particularly at risk.

Pets should always have access to shade and plenty of water and they are never to be left in a hot car. The temperature in a car, even with the windows cracked open, increases dramatically within minutes and cases of pets dying in hot cars are unfortunately not uncommon. According to the RSPCA, when it is 22˚C outside, in one hour the temperature inside a car can be 47 degrees.

Knowing the warning signs is essential; these are similar in dogs and cats and include: rapid panting, dark or bright red tongue, sticky or dry tongue and gums, excessive drooling, staggering, stupor, dizziness, vomiting or diarrhoea (often with blood), seizures and coma.

Serious organ failure and death will follow shortly after these signs are exhibited. If you suspect a heatstroke, the first thing you should do is move the animal to a shaded and cool area.

If the animal is conscious, soak them with cool (not cold) water until breathing starts to settle, and allow them to drink small amounts of cool water. If the animal is unconscious, douse them with cool (again, not cold) water, being very careful to avoid the noise and mouth. Wet towels can also be used.

In both cases it is extremely urgent to seek veterinary attention. Even if your pet appears responsive, further treatment is almost always necessary as there may already be damage to internal organs.

If you find a dog in a hot car or situation where you recognise signs of overheating, call 999 and contact a local veterinarian as soon as possible. If there is someone available to monitor the animal, try to locate the owner.

However, if the situation is critical and help is taking too long, many people are unsure as to whether the law allows them to break into the car and free the dog, but sometimes it is the only option. Under current law, breaking into someone’s car or property without proper justification could be classed as a criminal offence, so it is important to tell the police what you intend to do and why, have a witness and take footage.